By María Eugenia Trillo, Ph.D.
Community, barrio, neighborhood, hood, Second Ward, South Side, El Segundo. Each of these terms evokes a different image and feeling. Río Linda is a diaspora community, one of three unique communities that were forced to uproot themselves and disperse in more than five thousand pieces to the four winds. September 25th will mark fifty-six years since the bi-national Chamizal Peace Treaty was signed in 19631 and ratified in April, 19642 by then US President Lyndon Baines Johnson and President López Mateos, of Mexico. 3 President JF Kennedy was scheduled to return to El Paso, Texas to sign the ratification; unfortunately, his life was taken on November 22, 1963, which is why Pres. LBJ did the honors at Bowie High School, the old one, en El Segundo Barrio.
The process of returning contested land north of the Río Grande/Río Bravo back to Mexico had begun almost a century before when Pedro Ignacio García demanded to have his land returned since he had acquired it as part of the Ponce de León land grant. The parameters of the land in question was determined in 1910 by the June 4, 1910 International Arbitration Commission led by the International Boundary Commission: E. Lafleur; A. Mills ; F. Beltram y Puga:4
Article I. The Chamizal tract in dispute is located at El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, and is bounded westerly and southerly by the middle of the present channel of the Rio Grande, otherwise called Rio Bravo del Norte, easterly by the middle of the abandoned channel of 1901, and northerly by the middle of the channel of the river as surveyed by Emory and Salazar in 1852, and is substantially as shown on a map on a scale of 1-5,000 signed by General Anson Mills, commissioner on the part of the United States, and Senor Don F. Javier Osorno, commissioner on the part of Mexico, which accompanies the report of the International Boundary Commission, in Case No. 13, entitled ” Alleged Obstruction in the Mexican End of the El Paso Street Railway Bridge and Backwaters Caused by the Great Bend in the River Below “, and on file in the archives of the two Governments.5
Those interested in knowing more about the geopolitical and historic aspects of the talks, conventions, treaties, I refer the reader to Miguel Perez’s concise coverage in his blog “A River runs Through our Hispanic Heritage.”6
For those of us who lived in the Chamizal, the river was almost a person. Here is part of the story, as told by Mrs. Lupe C, who lived in the pink house on the corner of Rosita and 13th Streets in Río Linda (Trillo, María Eugenia, personal interview for her dissertation, El Paso, TX, 1993):7
M: Y el ría tenía fence o tenía…
L: No, no tenía fence. In fact, yo tenía unos pictures del river una vez que subió para arriba. No tenía fence el river. Y una vez it was just about to overflow↗
M: uuumm (apprehensive sound)
L: Llovió mucho and you couldn’t see nothing. Ya vez que tenía hierbas y todo? You couldn’t see NOTHING!
L: ¡Tan chulo! Pura’gua and I took some pictures; no más que para hallar esos pictures ahorita…
Long-standing International Chamizal disputes? Quién sabe? As kids who grew up in Río Linda, this land was our community, our home. What helps to create a community? Is it urban planning, resources, investments, a vision of its economic potential? The Río Linda subdivision was established in March of 1946. This is the city map of Río Linda provided by Mr. Borrego, the El Paso City Engineer, 1993 (Trillo, M.E. Entre los traques y el Río: Between the Railroad Tracks and the River—a Collective Memoir, 2003: 26).
On this disputed land, cinder-block homes were constructed to sell to the US soldiers returning from the Korean “conflict” and their families. Other Mexican American families, upon seeing that the US government was building homes on disputed land, felt it safe to also buy and build on that stretch of land on the edge of the Río Grande/Río Bravo, that river that marks the geopolitical boundaries of the United States of America and the United States of Mexico.
Although several stories have covered the political aspect of this community, few have touched upon the human side of the story. As the Chamizal National Memorial Chief Ranger, Gus Sanchez, explained to me on August 3, 2018, that the National Park system had not interpreted the human side of the historical stories contained at any national park (and I am paraphrasing). Even so, in 2004 Ranger Cristina Rosales collaborated with the organizing committee of the Chamizal Families’ first gathering, held at the Chamizal National Memorial Park. Dozens of families came from as far away as California to share stories of their years growing up in Río Linda. I presented my research and draft of the collective memoir with all who attended.
What was it like to live in this community? Río Linda was a small enclave within the larger Segundo Barrio or Second Ward. Río Linda was physically located south of the railroad tracks, north of the Río Grande, west of Peyton Stockyards and east of the “Puente Negro”, a black iron bridge left over from the time the Chamizal had been part of the Ponce de León land grant. The urban perimeters were 11th Street, Park Street, and the eastern edge of the warehouses off Ben Swain street. Río Linda was part of the acreage that was returned to Mexico under the Chamizal Binational Peace Treaty of the 1960s.
The dislocation of families had many ramifications, which would make for an interesting socioeconomic study. As a high school student at Bowie High School in the 1960s, I worked for a housing project run by Our Lady of Guadalupe Center. The purpose of the project was to help relocate the hundreds of families who lived in rented homes or in city housing projects located in the Chamizal. Very few Río Linda families had rented homes since most families owned their property. A new housing project was constructed near the El Paso Coliseum to help Chamizal families get relocated. The phrase I remember people using at the time was, “oooh, está relejos” (it’s so far) from the downtown area and all that is familiar. Not all people had a car at that time.
Residents of Río Linda did well for themselves. Between 1991 and 1999, I visited 34 of the 50-some families who had lived in our old neighborhood. I was shocked to see and hear that the old network was still very much alive. In my interviews of them, they all concurred that the sense of community had been lost and that, as happy as they were in their new surroundings, that feeling of extended family was not there. An acute sense of loss, of nostalgia imbued all my conversations with my community mothers and fathers, with the neighborhood kids I had grown up with. Yet, much good came from our community. Many of us had become professionals in various fields. We are proud to say that we have social workers, bilingual teachers, bilingual educational aides and a coach, nurses and a pediatrician, police lawyers and a judge, a librarian, real estate agent, a NASA space engineer, several construction contractors, carpenters, plumbers, landscapers. And a linguist with a flair for oral history.
Perhaps this resilience to the traumatic effects of being dislocated and dismembered as a community is a testimony to the determination of the people of Río Linda. Perhaps it was the fact that prior to being dislocated we did thrive as an extended family unit. All those street parties with our own garage band, the El Paso Drifters, singing in the summer evenings…the stories that don Jesús and the grandmothers used to tell us as we sat enthralled…catching fireflies in mayonnaise jars by the river bank, going to sleep by the sound and chugs of the 10:00 p.m. train…going to buy groceries at Jimito’s store –previously, La Guadalupana…all going to the same schools—Houchen Community Center, Hart Elementary, Bowie High School—listening to Papá Quinito on the radio and watching Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Rogers on black and white TV…perhaps simply because the community coalesced, grew strong in the heart and spirit of the 1950s, perhaps because of all of this, when the big blow-up came in the 1960s, we each stole away a little piece of the cord that binds us. As my old neighbors shared (Trillo, M.E. Entre los traques y el Río, 2001 and 2003):
Sometimes I dream that I am running around Río Linda. I’m driving around in my car and I’m looking for my house, but I find it all broken down. It was never repaired—they had allowed it to fall into pieces. It had rotted through. As I see the crumbled house, I remember the dance in the street. I can hear the music. I remember and smell the coffee I used to drink at my neighbor’s house. There were no gangs or nothing…Then, I wake up. —Sr. Contreras
La Llorona and witches…you could see them coming down the street, a bunch of them—¡muy feo! —Mrs. Carrasco
Sueño andar correteando con todos los amigos y tanta cosa que hacíamos allí—de andar en los files de algodón escondiéndonos y tirándonos, peleándonos con los chavalos…—Pipis
Which aspects of a community endure? Shared memories, love—even when all else is gone?
1. 50 years ago, a fluid border made the US smaller. NPR, September 24, 2014. https://www.npr.org/2014/09/25/350885341/50-years-ago-a-fluid-border-made-the-u-s-1-square-mile-smaller
2. Tag Archives: Rio Linda Neighborhood. In The El Paso Herald Post, Monday, August 24, 2020 https://elpasoheraldpost.com/tag/rio-linda-neighborhood/
3. Friedman, Nathan. Political Props: Territorial Performance and the Chamizal Dispute. In Más Context. https://www.mascontext.com/tag/chamizal-treaty/
4. REPORTS OF INTERNATIONAL ARBITRAL AWARDS RECUEIL DES SENTENCES ARBITRALES. The Chamizal Case (Mexico, United States) 15 June 1911. United Nations, 2006. https://www.internationalwaterlaw.org/cases/Chamizal_Arbitration.pdf
7. Trillo, María Eugenia. The code-switching patterns of the Río Linda community of El Chamizal in El Paso: an emic perspective of syntactic constraints. Doctoral dissertation unpublished. University of New Mexico. 2002. https://www.worldcat.org/title/code-switching-patterns-of-the-rio-linda-community-of-el-chamizal-in-el-paso-an-emic-perspective-of-syntactic-constraints/oclc/51442966
8. The Chamizal Blues: El Paso, the Wayward River, and the Peoples in Between. Jeffrey M. Schulze in The Western Historical Quarterly, Vol. 43, No. 3 (AUTUMN 2012), pp. 301-322. Published by: Western Historical Quarterly, Utah State University on behalf of The Western History Association, http://www.jstor.org/stable/westhistquar.43.3.0301
9. Kramer, Paul. The Chamizal: A town between borders. http://www.radiodiaries.org/the-chamizal/
10. Juárez, Miguel. From Concordia to Lincoln Park, An Urban History of Highway Building in El Paso, Texas. Doctoral dissertation unpublished. Doctoral dissertation unpublished. University of Texas at El Paso. 2018. https://0-search-proquest-com.lib.utep.edu/pqdtglobal/docview/2055729262/FEABC656B82B48DBPQ/1?accountid=7121
11. Río Linda Neighborhood Reunion at Chamizal National Memorial Set For Saturday, El Paso Herald Post, September 16, 2018. https://elpasoheraldpost.com/rio-linda-neighborhood-reunion-at-chamizal-national-memorial-set-for-saturday/
12. Reunion of Former Río Linda Neighborhood Residents Scheduled for September, El Paso Herald Post, August 7, 2018. https://elpasoheraldpost.com/reunion-of-former-rio-linda-neighborhood-residents-scheduled-for-september/